Showing posts with label Sailing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sailing. Show all posts

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Baltic Summer


The Baltic is the Mediterranean!  A huge bowl of the bluest of cloudless bright blue skies sharply etched with vivid green trees and pretty houses washed white, pale yellow, red and ochre, each topped with a neat red-tiled roof, clustering around ports in the small towns and villages of Danish South Zealand. 




There is something magical about living on a boat on the water at sunset during the long twilight hours of the Baltic Summer, being part of the unfolding drama of the closing of each day.  The swifts swooping for their supper, the splash of fish jumping for theirs, the water like ripped silk, as we watch the achingly slow draining of the light as the sky turns from deepest blue to soft shades of silvery lavender, rose and the very palest of spun gold, laughter and voices drifting across the harbour; ancient, impenetrable tongues.


For days we hopped from one idyllic island to another drifting on a light breeze, exploring inlets and bays, mooring up or anchoring for long lazy lunches and a siesta, as one long, hot summer's day followed another, swimming with the fish in the clear, clean water then threading our way back precariously through the shallow inky-blue waters, reading the runes of the sea to bring us back to the relative safety of deeper waters, before  moving on to the next harbour, each one prettier than the last then slowly heading north towards Copenhagen.




Sailing into Christianshavn Kanal right in the centre of Copenhagen, and mooring up there for two days in the shadow of the brightly painted converted warehouses that line the canal, was a complete contrast and an opportunity to spend some time exploring this busy, vibrant Cosmopolitan city, dipping into museums, galleries, shops and restaurants, sampling home-made schnapps and eating freshly caught fish, before returning each evening to our own small boat, sitting in the cockpit with a glass of Aquavit watching the world go by, then rocked gently to sleep by the movement of the boat.



We tore ourselves away from Copenhagen and reluctantly left Denmark, crossing the Sound to Sweden and the somehow cooler delights of Malmo, spending a day exploring the old town, lunching in the market square and stopping off for delicious Italian ice cream before setting off the next day on the final leg of our journey, sailing under the Oresund Bridge in a very fresh wind which threatened to blow us off into the massive concrete pillars, a train rumbling overhead, then fighting the wind on a rolling swell for a while as we sailed off the coast of Southern Sweden, spending the night in a small fishing harbour smelling strongly of fish, too tired to care. 



A change in the wind the next day swept us straight into the seaside town of Ystad in Southern Sweden and, finally, time to spend with a small Swedish granddaughter, building sandcastles on the long white Baltic beach and paddling in the dark blue waters that had carried us safely here.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

"See you in Copenhagen!"

"I'm cold, wet, exhausted, uncomfortable, nauseous and I've been bumped about on a rough sea for the last 24 hours."  And this is fun?  I am so glad I decided to stay at home and go to a garden party instead of joining my partner in crossing the North Sea in a small sailing boat.  Once was more than enough for me!  He had good crew and apparently they all rather relished the challenge. I guess it's a man thing.

This is the post I wrote about my first (and last) crossing of the North Sea to Holland before I found out just how tough it can get out there.



Night Crossing




"Our crew turned out to be profoundly deaf, a burly 6'2" giant. Somewhere in his sixties and retired, he delighted in telling tall stories of near disasters at sea in a very loud voice, whilst chain smoking, not entirely inspiring confidence. Quite overpowering on a small boat, he felt the need to touch me every time he spoke. I edged further away on the hard bench, trying to maintain some personal space, without falling into the churning sea, fighting nausea.


The night crossing was definitely a test of my courage and a huge challenge. Sailing in a small boat across the North Sea to Holland, wind over tide for those who know about such things, is a bit like trying to ride a bucking bronco, whilst at the same time trying to make a cup of tea, or go to the loo. A particular low point was trying to adjust my clothes and momentarily letting go of the nearest handhold, just to ram my forehead into the shelf opposite. The damp night sea air crept into every crevice of my being. Even my bones were cold".


I shall fly out to Copenhagen and join him there, potter round the Baltic sea and end up in Southern Sweden with his son and granddaughter, which is after all the point of all this.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Postcard


Delicious ice-cold, fruity, blond beer, steaming pots of fresh mussels cooked in white wine with onions and celery, perfectly fried chips dipped in garlicky mayonnaise, and pancakes (pannenkoek) met slagroom (cream) yes, really!

The entire nation on its bicycle; mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends, grandparents with grandchildren perched in front, clutching tiny pretend handle bars and looking terribly serious. Or walking dogs; big dogs, little dogs, every possible variety of dog.  I think every Dutch family must own at least one - they even take them out on their boats.



A huge bowl of sky in gorgeous shades of palest duck egg blue and grey.  And water.  Water everywhere. Canals leading off inland seas, taking us right into the very heart of lovely ancient towns where we could step off the boat straight into the nearest cafe or bar, wander through the streets, shopping for fresh bread, coffee, cheese and fruit, or just admiring the pretty Dutch houses and wondering how on earth they get their windows so very clean, before heading back to the boat to sit in the cockpit watching the world go by with a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta, cooked on the little swinging stove.


From Goes we sailed across the Oosterschelde to Zierikzee for the Mussel Festival, joined friends from England, stayed a day longer than planned because of severe weather then, setting off for Willemstad, were forced back to Goes, probably my favourite place in Holland, by an unpredicted Force 7 in the Oosterschelde, which is like standing fully dressed in the wind and rain, with someone chucking buckets of freezing water over you every few seconds. Not my idea of fun at all! Lovely fish soup and a glass of warming Calvados helped to ease my recovery from the difficult conditions at sea that day.


A long day's sail up the Volkerak finally brought us to Willemstad, another pretty dutch town, to stay for a couple of days before taking the boat up the Haringvliet to Middel Harnis for pannenkoek, then on to Hellevoetsluis where we fell in with a crowd of Dutch boaties who all have the same boat we have - an instant connection there.  We spent a couple of days with them and joined them in a race (my first) where we were totally outclassed, but great fun anyway, then a barbecue in their clubhouse in the evening, watching the sun go down over the water and chatting with the English speakers, swapping sailing stories and practising Dutch pronunciation to their great amusement.

                         
Time now to retrace our steps, back to Willemstad, then back across the Oosterschelde again, this time into the Veerse Meer and the pretty town of Veere for the night, then on to Middelburg in the pouring rain, then the train and the ferry home across the wide, cold Noordzee. 


Now where did I leave my waistline?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Diversion

We hadn't planned a visit to Orford yesterday.  The idea was to take the boat upriver and spend the night moored up close to a nearby town and explore, but the strong winds that are sweeping through East Anglia at the moment made us rethink our plans.  Just getting the dinghy up to the boat and back was an act of faith and involved a great deal of splashing and bumping on the choppy river water.  Luckily the dinghy stayed the right way up and it was a huge relief to have solid ground under our feet again. 


Thwarted of our goal, we decided to drive to Orford instead and visit The Jolly Sailor, a lovely traditional English seaside pub, for fish and chips by a nice woodburning stove with the Sunday Times.  A couple of hours later, replete and satisfied that we had made the best of a disappointing day, we started our journey home. 


The diversion sign on the road home was a red rag to a bull.  Of course my partner had to investigate in the firm belief there would be a way through, so when we hit a solid lake of muddy water, with another car firmly embedded in it, he carried on regardless.  We made it to the far side and stopped to see if there was anything we could do.  Eventually, after much toing and froing, we managed to attach a tow hook and pulled the car and it's stranded occupants clear of the water.  The two adorable dogs trapped inside with their owners were particularly relieved!  The engine was, however, completely dead.  We ended up towing the lifeless car for several miles, at one point through a deserted airfield in the fading daylight - a surreal experience. 


Home turned out to be in the town we had originally planned to visit on the boat, so despite our diversions and changes of plan, we arrived at our destination, although not quite in the way we had intended.  Even more surreal, it turned out that our new friends live in a churchyard, the path to their front door marked by ancient gravestones.  We enjoyed a convivial thank you drink at their lovely house and finally headed back to our own home around midnight, well satisfied with the way the day had turned out, and possibly with some new friends.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Just beam me up

The boat surfed the threshing waves bouncing like a cork then slid into a trough as I glanced behind to see the large, heavy wooden dinghy we were towing poised on the wave's crest and crashing down towards us.  I clung on for dear life and said my prayers as the boat heeled over, seawater rinsing the decks, blinding me with spray.
 
I could think of a million things I would rather be doing right now; planting out my oxeye daisies, painting my nails bright blue, drinking ink ...

We finally made it into the river entrance and sailed more sedately to join the other boats taking part in the rally, anchored deep in the river mud.  Later that evening we joined them for a barbecue on the beach in a remote spot, inaccessible other than by water, chatting, laughing, exchanging stories.  Someone started playing music by the firelight as we watched the most glorious sunset I have ever seen and the light gradually faded from the sky. Then we waded through the mud to the dinghy to join another boat for a nightcap, before making our way back up the quiet moonlit river to our own boat to snuggle in for the night.







"That's the difference between you and me," I said to my partner. "I can quite happily go to a party and enjoy myself without having to half kill myself first."

"It makes the beer taste better," he replied succinctly.

Monday, 7 June 2010

East Coast Mud

We turned off the busy 'A' road and headed into the empty countryside under wide East Anglian skies.  After a few miles we took another turning, down a dusty single track lane, deeper into the remote countryside.  A few minutes later, the river glinted at us through the trees and we reached our destination.


We had moved the boat up to its new mooring late last week and are being initiated into the joys of inflatable dinghies and east coast mud.  Having unloaded and parked the car, it took rather a long time in the hot midday sun to pump up the dinghy, attach the outboard and load it with supplies for an overnight stay.  As I gingerly stepped onto the treacherous thing, it floated away from the jetty slightly, pulled by the tide, leaving me straddled, one foot in the dinghy, the other slipping off the jetty into the thick gooey mud.  Not my most dignified moment, but a baptism of fire into the reality of a river mooring, after the luxury of marinas and pontoons. 

We finally managed to get ourselves onto the dinghy, started the outboard and set off  a quarter of a mile upriver to our boat, sitting rather closer to the water than is entirely comfortable for a landlubber.  We tied up and somehow managed to haul ourselves precariously on board.  At last we got the sails up and drifted up the meandering river on a light breeze, moored up by a riverside pub, lowered ourselves into the dinghy again, rowed ashore for a well earned drink.

There are now two things I have added to my wish list that I would never have dreamed of in my other life.  One is a nice firm fibreglass dinghy, the other is a boarding ladder.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Contrasts

Perhaps we shouldn't have gone to the gallery opening. The smart shiny people glanced unseeingly at us as we slipped through the door, so absorbed were they in all the other smart shiny people they had known for years. Strangely, nobody else seemed to be looking at the stunning pictures. More people drfited in and were greeted with shrieks of recognition, air kisses, as we bounced off them like billiard balls, unable to penetrate the invisible shield.


She used to be a neighbour of his, in and out of each other's houses, their children playmates, but they hadn't seen each other for years.
'I can't quite place you ...', she said, puzzled, as he greeted her and congratulated her on her work. 'Oh yes, didn't you used to be married to ... '
'Things change', he replied awkwardly as my smile slipped.

Not the right woman. Not the right place. Not my fault.



The next day, the thin autumn sunshine breaking through the misty morning drew us onto the water. We spent the day sailing up the river, the water like spun silk, dropping anchor in a quiet creek, listening to the silence, soaking up the late sun. Later, as the light drained away, we headed back to port under the bright, almost full moon, shivering in the damp, cold, river air.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Night Crossing

Our crew turned out to be profoundly deaf, a burly 6'2" giant. Somewhere in his sixties and retired, he delighted in telling tall stories of near disasters at sea in a very loud voice, whilst chain smoking, not entirely inspiring confidence. Quite overpowering on a small boat, he felt the need to touch me every time he spoke. I edged further away on the hard bench, trying to maintain some personal space, without falling into the churning sea, fighting nausea.

The night crossing was definitely a test of my courage and commitment and a huge challenge. Sailing in a small boat across the North Sea to Holland, wind over tide for those who know about such things, is a bit like trying to ride a bucking bronco, whilst at the same time trying to make a cup of tea, or go to the loo. A particular low point was trying to adjust my underwear and momentarily letting go of the nearest handhold, just to ram my forehead into the shelf opposite. The damp night sea air crept into every crevice of my being. Even my bones were cold.

Every journey has to end and we arrived in Zeeland on a fine sunny afternoon, all traces of sickness gone, looking forward to a good meal and a hot shower. What I got was a cool shower and wet shoes and clothes - the water went everywhere. The meal was delicious though. Life with TMITPS, I realised, is never going to be dull. Uncomfortable and challenging at times, but never dull.

The rest of the holiday was spent pottering through the inland seas and canals of this charming country, staying in small marinas and quays in pretty Dutch towns, eating wonderful meals and enjoying the hospitality of this gentle country and it's friendly people. Living on a boat was fun and sailing creates a strong bond between strangers. The locks were particularly interesting as everyone jostles in a small space, desperately trying to hook a line onto rings and bollards, whilst trying not to bang into each other or the dank, unforgiving lock walls. I quickly became an expert in fending off and tying clove knots, my new skill.

The journey home was much more straightforward. No crew for this, as I was supposed to have my sea legs, and I did. We managed the trip between us, mostly during daylight, constantly watching for the ferries and container ships that would suddenly loom through the haze, seemingly from nowhere.

It was quite an adventure and lovely to be safely home in my quiet, spacious house. But sometimes I find myself missing the intimacy of living on a small boat and the simplicity it demands.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Stuck in the Mud

The plan this weekend was to take the boat upriver to have it's bottom well scrubbed before we set off for Holland next week. A 26 hour crossing of the unpredictable North Sea which is going to be a serious challenge to my fledgling sailing abilities and probably a real endurance test.

On Friday, however, I started sneezing, had a splitting headache and felt really rough, so TMITPS set off alone to do whatever needed to be done to make us seaworthy, while I curled up in bed to concentrate on fighting the bug.

Perhaps it was just as well in the end as, when he phoned a few hours later, disaster had struck and he was well and truly stuck in the mud, just yards from the pontoon and relative safety, the tide going out rapidly and the boat sinking deeper and deeper into the thick smelly gooey muck, mosquitoes filling the cabin. He had very little food as it was meant to be a quick in and out trip, and an empty water tank, as he had emptied it out in an attempt to lighten the boat and free it. He was completely alone out there, covered in mud, in a very remote spot, waiting for the tide to come in again and lift him out - if he wasn't too deeply rammed in. It was an anxious time for both of us, although I decided that being safe and dry at home was definitely the better option!

Luckily the news in the morning was better. The tide had done it's work and he was afloat again, the boat scrubbed and the prospect of an easy return home. I just hope that the trip to Holland goes more smoothly and the jinx is satisfied for now.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Little white, lacy, strappy things

My sons are home! The washing machine and dishwasher rumble incessantly, there is never enough milk, bread, cereal or red wine, casseroles bubble on the stove and the mother in me stirs and purrs contentedly, testosterone drifting through the house as their deep voices mingle and merge.

So why, I wonder, did I take a detour on my way to stock up again at Waitrose, to trawl through the racks of sale price clothes in Fat Face, discarding the sensible sweat shirts and fleecy, warm zippy things and finding my way to the little white, lacy, strappy vest top, to be secreted amongst the carrots and potatoes and meat and cheese? Perhaps my mind had drifted towards the Man in the Pink Shirt, currently battling the wind and tides somewhere off the South Coast, no doubt swathed in utilitarian waterproofs?

I suppose I could always hide it under a sensible fleece if I go sailing again. Only I would know it was there, surely. After all, if he had wanted a sensible woman, what on earth is he doing with me?

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Sailing Lessons

'Down below' was even smaller than I had expected. More intimate. For a six berth yacht, there was surprising little space. Even the two of us had to negotiate the cabin and deck with great care.

We set off down the channel towards the Solent, first under engine then, when the wind got up, the sails went up and things became really interesting as we tipped and rolled in the swell. I kept forgetting that I should push the tiller in the opposite direction to where we were heading, but this didn't really matter until we were approaching Cowes and fell in with the racing yachts during Cowes week. Rather a lot to cope with for a novice but somehow we negotiated the crowded waters and eventually found the river leading to the pub.

We berthed three deep, cut the engine and sat for a while, drinking champagne, eating the olives and goat's cheese and french bread meant for a lunch that never happened, chatting to the friendly men in the next berth as the sun went down, trying to remember who wrote 'Sitting in the Dock of the Bay' and wasn't there a Kink's song about boats and a river? 'Waterloo Sunset' perhaps?

On Sunday morning, we were jarred out of our lazy breakfast too soon by the French couple tied up alongside us and anxious to leave, but with the wind and tides with us and the sun beating down, I was at last able to change into my pink swimsuit and sit peacefully on deck, soak in the hot sun, watch the boats criss-cross the calm sea, rub sun screen into each other's backs and admire his skill as he brought us home again.